Dear Brits...

An open letter from a confused friend and colleague.

boycott Israel 88 (photo credit: )
boycott Israel 88
(photo credit: )
I am having an increasingly difficult time trying to fit the square peg called freedom and the right to self-determination, that is so much a part of your civilization and ours, into the round boycott hole recently carved out by the union representing you British scientists, among other academics. After all, your ethos, like ours, is to check the facts without bias before reaching any conclusions. We have much more in common than you may care to admit. For example, the combination of a state religion - in your case, the Church of England - with a vibrant democracy. Not one, but three crosses adorn your flag - and who in the world even contemplates questioning the legitimacy of putting the symbol of Christianity on the national flag of your democracy? After all, you are not alone. Numerous countries in Europe, and elsewhere, put crosses on their flags, while many Muslim countries place Islamic symbols on their flags. Alas, we are a country with only one-ninth of your population, and so we make do with only one Star of David on our flag. In fact, it is the only national flag in the entire world with the symbol of the Jewish religion. But that, of course, is due to the minor detail that we are the only country with a Jewish majority. Is there any particular reason why what is considered permissible for you is considered questionable when it is done by the Jewish people? Incidentally, it might be worthwhile to note that while our flag and country are only 59 years old, our Star of David or its namesake goes back millennia. In fact, you may have even heard of that particular David. He was our king (you are certainly familiar with the concept) in this very same land 3,000 years ago. Having had a king is just one indication that we also had a country here, once upon a time. But that was before ancestral Europeans from Greece and from Rome - and Crusaders from your neighborhood and Muslims from ours - took turns invading our land, destroying our home and murdering our people. Once your ancestors took care of the only country that the Jewish people had, and dispersed us all over the globe, we were treated to dessert: the Inquisition, the pogroms and the Nazis, all on European soil. Finally, after 2,000 years, we returned home; thanks in no small part to your Lord Balfour's Declaration and to the nascent United Nations' decision on November 1947, the international community finally consented to letting the Jewish people rebuild their country on a small portion of their ancestral home. Of course, our neighbors had other thoughts. They rejected the UN resolution to divide Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab country. They attacked us and did what they could to finish what the Nazis began - to the same people who had somehow managed to survive the Holocaust. Despite the British training and arms many of them received (you probably recall, for example, Sir John Glubb in Jordan and the Spitfires sent to Egypt), and the simultaneous embargo of arms to us (yes, your boycotting us is nothing new), we prevailed and recreated our country. Our neighbors, different ones in different periods, have been attacking us incessantly since we attained independence in 1948. With some we have made peace, and with others we have tried. WE REALLY blew it when we settled the West Bank and Gaza, our historical claim to the land notwithstanding. It was a big mistake to try and settle civilians in areas that could never become part of a democratic country with a large Jewish majority, an area that our soldiers must unfortunately patrol to keep us safe. It took a long time, but, as indicated by our complete evacuation of Gaza and the referendum on the West Bank that was made explicit in our recent elections, the majority of Israelis have decided to embrace the concept of two states for the two peoples. In short, we are no less and no more perfect a people than you. We, like you, have made mistakes, and we try to correct them. We certainly do not have more racists than you, and we are not bitten by the colonialist bug any more than countries who send their armadas across the world to defend "their" soil on islands off the Argentinean coast. During the past few, traumatic, years, the majority of us have finally and fully internalized what constitutes a necessary condition for making peace. We have discovered that there is a distinction between our Palestinian partners recognizing that we exist and their accepting our right to exist. Without the latter form of recognition, any "peace" agreement is no more than a temporary cease-fire. Israel has finally reached that point in its collective conscious and in its willingness to make concessions to achieve true peace. Unfortunately, our neighbors are still light years and several emancipations away from this. Until then we will wait, encourage, coax and turn over every possible stone - but we won't forsake the lives of our people. We have sat defenseless through one holocaust too many. SOMETIMES IT pays to listen to your enemies. The Nazis did not hide their intentions (and you saw how well making "peace in our time" worked with them). Neither do Hamas, Hizbullah, the Iranians, al-Qaida or the other fundamentalists - even your own home-grown ones. The issue we face is not one of borders - and it really never has been. The issue is one of getting permanently deleted from the world's hard drive. We may be one of the first files in their expunge folder. But do not delude yourselves as to your location on that list. We are where they initially test their techniques and their weapons. However, you always get to witness, firsthand, the real shows several years later, with compound interest (remember the plane hijackings?). Today their missiles are lashing out at our towns. But their bigger and longer-range missiles are putting your cities in increasingly closer range. Their suicide terrorists began with our children, but have since taken their sound and light shows to the World Trade Center, to your rapid transit system and to Spanish trains. Their arsenal has been conventional - so far. No imagination, just ears and a translator are required to understand the directions in which they plan to expand their armories. So when our neighbors have this future in mind for us today - and for you tomorrow - what do your representatives choose to do? Whom do they decide to boycott? What can one people offer to placate another people bent on total annihilation? You might want to begin thinking about these issues. Because when a nuclear device goes off in London, you'll need to have a better backup plan than boycotting the victims. The writer teaches economics in the Department of Public Policy at Tel Aviv University.